The Book of Joe

The Book of Joe

by Jonathan Tropper


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Right after high school, Joe Goffman left sleepy Bush Falls, Connecticut and never looked back. Then he wrote a novel savaging everything in town, a novel that became a national bestseller and a huge hit movie. Fifteen years later, Joe is struggling to avoid the sophomore slump with his next novel when he gets a call: his father's had a stroke, so it's back to Bush Falls for the town's most famous pariah. His brother avoids him, his former classmates beat him up, and the members of the book club just hurl their copies of Bush Falls at his house. But with the help of some old friends, Joe discovers that coming home isn't all bad—and that maybe the best things in life are second chances.

Fans of Nick Hornby and Jennifer Weiner will love this book, by turns howling funny, fiercely intelligent, and achingly poignant. As evidenced by The Book of Joe's success in both the foreign and movie markets, Jonathan Tropper has created a compelling, incredibly resonant story.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385338103
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/25/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 241,492
Product dimensions: 5.53(w) x 8.24(h) x 0.79(d)

About the Author

Jonathan Tropper is the author of Everything Changes, The Book of Joe, which was a BookSense selection, and Plan B. He lives with his wife, Elizabeth, and their children in Westchester, New York, where he teaches writing at Manhattanville College. How to Talk to a Widower was optioned by Paramount Pictures, and Everything Changes and The Book of Joe are also in development as feature films.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Just a few scant months after my mother's suicide, I walked into the garage, looking for my baseball glove, and discovered Cindy Posner on her knees, animatedly performing fellatio on my older brother, Brad. He was leaned up against our father's tool rack, the hammers and wrenches jingling musically on their hooks like Christmas bells as he rocked gently back and forth, staring up at the ceiling with a curiously bored expression. His jeans and boxers were bunched up around his knees, his hand resting absently on her bobbing head as she went about her surprisingly noisy oral ministrations. I stood there transfixed until Brad, sensing my arrival, looked down from the ceiling and our eyes met. There was no alarm in his eyes, no embarrassment at having been caught in so compromising a position, but only the same look of tired resignation he always seemed to have where I was concerned. That's right. I'm getting a blow job in the garage. It's a safe bet you never will. Cindy, whose back was to me,

noticed me a few seconds later and became instantly hysterical, cursing and shrieking at me as I beat a hasty, if somewhat belated retreat. I was thirteen years old at the time.

It's entirely possible that Cindy would have handled herself with a bit more aplomb had she known that seventeen years later the incident would be immortalized in the first chapter of the best-selling autobiographical novel that I would write and, as with most successful books, in the inevitable movie that would follow shortly thereafter. By then she was no longer Cindy Posner, but Cindy Goffman, having married Brad in their senior year of college, and I think it's fair to say that this inclusion in my book did nothing to improve our already tenuous relationship. The book is titled Bush Falls, after the small Connecticut town where I grew up, a term I use loosely, since the jury's still out on whether I've actually ever grown up at all.

By now you've certainly heard of Bush Falls, or no doubt seen the movie, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Kirsten Dunst, and did some pretty decent box office. Or maybe you read about the major controversy it caused back in my hometown, where they even went so far as to put together a class action libel suit against me that never went anywhere. Either way, the book was a runaway best-seller about two and a half years ago, and for a little while there, I became a minor celebrity.

Any schmuck can be unhappy when things aren't going well, but it takes a truly unique variety of schmuck, a real innovator in the schmuck field, to be unhappy when things are going as great as they are for me. At thirty-four, I'm rich, successful, have sex on a fairly regular basis, and live in a three-bedroom luxury apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side. This should be ample reason to feel that I have the world by its proverbial short hairs, yet I've recently developed the sneaking suspicion that underneath it all I am one sad, lonely son of a bitch, and have been for some time.

While there is no paucity of women in my life these days, it nevertheless seems that every relationship I've had in the two and a half years since the publication of Bush Falls has lasted almost exactly eight weeks, following the same essential flight pattern. In the first week I pull out all the stops—fancy restaurants, concerts, Broadway shows, and trendy nightclubs—modestly avoiding any high-minded banter concerning the literary world in favor of current events, movies, and celebrity gossip, which are of course the real currency in the New York dating scene, even if no one will admit it. Not that being a celebrated author isn't worth something, but stories about Miramax parties or how you hung out on the set with Leo and Kirsten will get you laid much faster and by a better caliber of woman. Weeks two and three are generally the best, the time you'd like to bottle and store, primarily due to the endorphin rush of fresh sex. At some point in the fourth week, I fall in love, briefly considering the possibility that this could be The One, and then everything pretty much goes to shit in slow motion. I waffle, I vacillate, I get insecure, I come on too strong. I conduct little psychological experiments on myself or the woman involved. You get the picture. This goes on for a couple of painfully awkward weeks, and then we both spend week seven in the fervent hope that the relationship will magically dissolve on its own, through an act of god or spontaneous combustion—anything to avoid having to actually navigate the tediously perilous terrain of a full-blown breakup. The last week is spent "taking some time," which ends with a final, perfunctory phone call finalizing the arrangement and resolving any outstanding logistics. I'll drop the bag and Donna Karan sweater you left in my apartment with the doorman, you can keep the books I lent you, thanks for the memories, no hard feelings, let's stay friends, et cetera, ad nauseam.

I know it bespeaks poor character to blame others for your problems, but I'm fairly certain this is all Carly's fault. Carly Diamond was my high school girlfriend, the first—and, to date, only—woman I've ever loved. We were together for our entire senior year, and loved each other with the fierce, timeless conviction of teenagers. That was the same year that all the terrible events described in my novel occurred, and my relationship with her was the lone bright spot in my dismally expanding universe.

If you want to get technical about it, we never actually broke up. We graduated high school and went to different colleges, Carly up to Harvard and me down to NYU. We tried to do the long-distance thing, but my adamant refusal to return to the Falls for our mutual vacations made it difficult, and over time we simply grew apart, but we never formally dissolved our relationship. After college, Carly came to New York to study journalism, at which point we embarked on one of those long, messy postgraduate friendships where you have just enough sex to thoroughly confuse the hell out of each other and ultimately, through a sequence of poor timing and third-party complications, fuck the life out of what was once the purest thing you'd ever known.

We still loved each other then, that much was obvious, but while Carly seemed ready to reclaim our relationship, I kept finding reasons to remain uncommitted. No matter how much I loved her—and I did—I was constantly comparing the timbre of our relationship with the raw beauty, the sense of discovery, that had attended our every moment when we were seventeen. By the time I finally understood the colossal nature of my mistake, it was too late and Carly was gone. Losing her once was sad but understandable. Carelessly discarding the second chance afforded me by the fates required such a potent mixture of arrogance and stupidity that it had to have been cultivated, because I'm fairly certain I wasn't always such a complete asshole.

I've never forgiven myself for the head games I played with her during her years in New York, wooing her whenever I felt her slipping away and then pulling back the minute I felt secure again. I allowed her unwavering belief in us to sustain me even at times when I didn't share it, leading her along with promises, both spoken and implied but never fulfilled. By the time I finally began to understand how badly I'd been using her, I had used her up completely. She left New York heartbroken and disgusted, returning to the Falls to accept a position as managing editor of The Minuteman, the town's local paper. Every time I think I've gotten over her, I find myself waking in the middle of the night, pining for her with such desperation that you would think it was only yesterday and not ten years ago that she left.

Since then not a day goes by that I am not haunted by a vague but powerful sense of regret, every woman I date serving as a reminder of what I allowed myself to lose. So in a way, it's because of Carly that I'm alone in bed in the middle of the night when the phone rings, its electronic wail piercing the insulated silence of my apartment like a siren. Generally speaking, when people call you at two in the morning, it won't be good news. My first thought, as I swim up through the dense wormwood haze of alcohol-induced sleep, is that it has to be Natalie, my borderline psychotic ex-girlfriend, calling to scream at me. I don't know what damage I could have possibly done to her apparently fragile psyche in eight weeks, but her latest therapist has convinced her that she still has significant unresolved issues with me and that it behooves her, from a mental wellness perspective, to call me, day or night, whenever it occurs to her to remind me what an insensitive jerk I was. The calls started about four months ago and now come fairly regularly, both at home and on my cell phone, thirty-second installments of furious invective with abundant smatterings of vulgarity, requiring absolutely no participation from me. If it happens that I'm unavailable, Nat is perfectly content to leave her colorful harangues on my voice mail. She's always been drawn to radical therapy, much as lately I seem to be drawn to women who require it.

Reading Group Guide

By turns wickedly funny and achingly poignant, The Book of Joe proves that you can go home again . . . even if you have to battle the bullies of your youth.

Joe Goffman escaped oppressive Bush Falls, Connecticut, as soon as he could. But he could never get his hometown out of his mind, inspiring him to write a novel savaging everything and everyone there. When the novel became a huge bestseller, and an even more popular movie, he knew he’d never be able to set foot in Bush Falls again. Now, fifteen years later, he has no choice. Joe’s father is gravely ill, so the town’s most famous pariah must return. Joe is finally ready to face his past, and with the help of some old friends, he may actually learn something . . . if he manages to survive the homecoming.

In the tradition of Nick Hornby and Jennifer Weiner, Jonathan Tropper has created a book that will cause you to laugh and pause to reflect. The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Jonathan Tropper’s The Book of Joe. We hope they will enrich your experience of this captivating novel.

1. Homecoming lies at the heart of the novel. How has this theme played out in your own experience? How prominently does your past shape your current life?

2. The opening sentence of The Book of Joe combines references to sex and death. In what way do these powerful experiences recur together throughout the novel? How does Joe develop an understanding of mortality and sexuality during his adolescence?

3. The 1980s form a colorful backdrop to the novel, especially in terms of pop culture and lyrics. Can time period be considered a character in The Book of Joe? In what other books? If so, how would you define and describe it?

4. The novel’s title echoes the biblical Book of Job. Though Joe himself would probably reject that comparison, does he have much in common with Job?

5. What does The Book of Joe indicate about how communities label and treat outsiders? Why were the Cougars the most highly regarded male figures in Bush Falls for so many generations?

6. Joe readily admits that he embellished actual events in writing Bush Falls—after all, that’s a fiction writer’s prerogative. But his experience parallels the real-life quandaries of many novelists who are criticized when drawing on their own memories to inspire fiction. Was it unethical for Joe to use Bush Falls in the way he did? Why does he have such a hard time replicating the success of Bush Falls with his second novel?

7. What techniques does Jonathan Tropper employ to balance his comedic and somber tones?

8. Discuss the spectrum of parenting offered in The Book of Joe. How does Joe’s family compare to that of his friends? What emotional scars do he and his brother bear from their mother’s suicide? Is Owen a father figure to Joe, and if so, how would you characterize his “fathering?”

9. Referring to his brother’s bar mitzvah, Joe muses that by missing out on his own coming-of-age celebration, he never became a man in the eyes of Judaism. Is Joe in fact any less mature or “less of a man” than his brother?

10. What does Joe’s nephew Jared indicate about the way times have changed in Bush Falls, and in American adolescence in general? Why do you think the author gave Jared such a prominent role in the novel?

11. What ultimately caused Sammy’s death? Is Coach Dugan’s attempt to make amends during Wayne’s funeral warranted—and sufficient?

12. When Joe discovers the hardcover copies of his book, along with a movie poster, prominently displayed in his father’s room, what message was conveyed between father and son?

13. Discuss the novel’s portrayal of second chances. Are Joe and his brother liberated from the pains of their past? What causes Brad’s marriage and career to fall on hard times? How will the Goffman family use its second chances?

14. What does Joe’s Mercedes signify throughout the novel? How do his feelings about the car reflect the personal changes he undergoes?

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